- Gregg Popovich is one of the greatest coaches the NBA has ever seen.
- ESPN’s Baxter Holmes told a story emblematic of Popovich’s leadership skills, taking place in the aftermath of the Spurs’ heartbreaking loss to the Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals.
- Popovich had prepared a celebration for the team after the game, but rather than canceling after the shocking loss, pushed everyone to get together for a meal, shifting the mood and uplifting his players.
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Gregg Popovich is known for both his unmatched success as an NBA coach and his love of fine food and wine. On Thursday, a story from ESPN’s Baxter Holmes made clear just how interconnected the two aspects of Pop’s life were.
One anecdote from Holmes’ report takes place just after the Spurs heartbreaking loss to the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. San Antonio was in control and appeared to be only seconds away from the title until Ray Allen hit one of the most consequential shots in NBA history.
Allen’s stunning buzzer-beater tied the game to force overtime, where the Heat would take the game and even the series, leaving the Spurs in a daze wondering if their title hopes had been dashed.
According to Holmes, Popovich had prepared for the team to celebrate at Il Gabbiano, one of his favorite restaurants in Miami. While some might decide to cancel what had been plans to celebrate a championship after having it slip from their hands in such dramatic fashion, Popovich’s reaction was to adjust to the mood, and move forward.
"Pop’s response was, ‘Family!’" Brett Brown, then a Spurs assistant, later tells ESPN. "’Everybody to the restaurant. Straight there.’"
Popovich is already on his way, making a mad dash in a private car to the waterfront eatery. Tables are rearranged — the team will sit in the center, coaches nearby, a ring of family around them. Popovich orders food. He orders the wine. He sits at the head of a table, takes a sip of wine and gathers himself. As the team bus arrives, he greets every Spur who passes through the door.
Popovich took it upon himself to shift the mood in the room, working the tables and make sure that every person there was ready to put the past behind them and prepare for Game 7 as a team.
"In terms of just trying to just hook everybody up to life support and resuscitate everybody, it was the most amazing display of leadership," former Spurs assistant coach Chad Forcier told Holmes.
While the Spurs wouldn’t bounce back in time to win Game 7 that season, when San Antonio met the Heat again in the NBA Finals the next year, they dominated their way to a championship in just five games.
The Spurs dynasty under Popovich was built on season after season of success, but it’s clear that some of his greatest moments as a coach came when times were tough and with the help of a quality restaurant.
You can read Holmes’ entire piece here.
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